Daniel Skerritt: ‘I wanted to draw your attention to a letter that has been published in Science on Friday October 29. Our letter “WTO must ban harmful fisheries subsidies” was published in on the same day, a new draft of the treaty text will be released, just over 30 days ahead of the start of the Twelfth Ministerial Conference on November 30. We feel that now is the time to imbue negotiations with a sense of urgency as trade ministers begin to prepare for the Ministerial – and hopefully the end game of negotiations – in Geneva. WTO members are closer than they have ever been before to reaching an agreement – we need to help encourage them to get across the finish line! The letter has been a collaborative effort between myself and 295 other co-authors, spanning 46 countries. This represents the most significant authorship that Science have ever received. Fortunately, we are also getting help from The Pew Charitable Trusts and partners, who have created a website to capture new scientist signatures to the letter – so, if any of your mailing list recipients would like to support the effort, they will be able to.

Abstract from Science: Sustainably managed wild fisheries support food and nutritional security, livelihoods, and cultures (1). Harmful fisheries subsidies—government payments that incentivize overcapacity and lead to overfishing—undermine these benefits yet are increasing globally (2). World Trade Organization (WTO) members have a unique opportunity at their ministerial meeting in November to reach an agreement that eliminates harmful subsidies (3). We—a group of scientists spanning 46 countries and 6 continents—urge the WTO to make this commitment.

To curb overfishing, biodiversity degradation and loss, and CO2 emissions, and to safeguard food and livelihoods, WTO members must prohibit fisheries subsidies that cause harm, such as those that lower the cost of fuel and vessel construction and those that provide price support to keep market prices artificially high (2). Subsidies to distant-water fishing fleets must be eliminated to prevent overfishing on the high seas and in waters under national jurisdiction. Such subsidies threaten low-income countries that rely on fish for food sovereignty (45). Exceptions to the rules—known as special and differential treatment—should be considered for small-scale fishers that use low-impact gears or that fish for subsistence, but only if decoupled from incentivizing overfishing (6).

An effective agreement must eliminate subsidies for fuel (7), distant-water and destructive fishing fleets (45), and illegal and unregulated vessels in line with the aims of Sustainable Development Goal 14.6 (8). To ensure accountability, it should also support low-income countries’ efforts to meet their commitments and transition to sustainable management. Finally, the agreement should require transparent data documentation and enforcement measures (9).

We call on the heads of state of the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement—who have already committed to eliminating harmful subsidies (1012)—as well as other trade blocs and individual countries, to declare their support now for an agreement that enshrines these recommendations. WTO members must harness their political mandate to protect the health of the ocean and the well-being of society.

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Dr Daniel Skerritt

Postdoctoral Research Fellow | Fisheries Economics Research Unit The University of British Columbia | Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries | Aquatic Ecosystems Research Laboratory   2202 Main Mall, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, V6T 1Z4  https://oceans.ubc.ca/daniel-skerritt/

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